Ok,  “Anonymous” commenter – this one’s for you.  I can’t resist responding to a “Quick, I need a book recommendation!” plea … These are the books that stood out to me in the last year or so of reading. Hope you find something that sparks your interest. Feel free to add your own recent favourites in the Comments.

The Braid by Laetitia Colombani – A creatively structured story of three women living across the globe from one another, in vastly different circumstances, whose tales become entwined in poignant ways. Not widely promoted for some reason but a special find. I hope more readers get to enjoy it.

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke – I simply adored this. I wasn’t expecting the writing to be so evocative but there were moments to stop and savour throughout. You will smell the Sicilian soil and tomatoes, I promise! An emotional story but told without high drama, just tenderly and respectfully shared. I don’t re-read very often (so many books, so little time) but am tempted already to re-visit this one.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins –  A juggernaut of positive promotion preceded its publication, Oprah blessed it too, but then controversy set in. I’ll leave you to the Googling to learn more about the politics but my experience as a reader was absolutely positive. I was captivated by the storytelling and found it to be a fascinating portrayal of a mother and son’s bond while bravely fleeing terrifying circumstances. I suggest reading the Author’s Note first. When I learned of the author’s inspiration for the story, I could personally reconcile any concerns raised among the naysayers.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – A big thank you to KM for this recommendation. A juicy big multi-generational saga set over several decades in Korea and Japan. An immigrant journey and a family story that is epic in scale and yet intimate in its portrayal of each character. Engrossing.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott – Sometimes when all the news articles seem to be too much, the reading of a personal essay can be a pleasant, just as brief, escape. This collection from a charming, self-professed Type A-overthinker, abounds with humour and poignancy. Philpott writes self-deprecatingly but honestly and often with a wink. Marriage, parenthood, big life moments, and more importantly, the little moments all feature.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – A stationery shop in Tehran in the tumultuous 1950s provides the setting for a young love to ignite. The romance is complicated by politics, culture and family but the love remains intensely felt for a lifetime. An emotional story of paths taken and not taken – a really heart wrenching journey but so worth the read.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – Don’t let the title scare you away (or make you overly giddy for that matter!) This is a wonderful story of a writing group for Punjabi widows that takes a bit of an entertaining turn. I get so many requests for “funny book” recommendations and this one has lovely humour, though it has some feisty adventure in it too. In fact, I was surprised by the unexpected depth. Looking forward to Jaswal’s next work.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – AN thoughtfully gifted this to me and I looked forward to an interesting non-fiction foray. But let me tell you, I was not expecting this to be as riveting a tale as it was. Wow. I was fascinated by each of the many threads that Orlean wove together. It could be considered an academic account but it reads like a page-flipping novel. The essence of the story begins with the 1986 Los Angeles library fire and then fans out to explore the life of the suspected arsonist, the history of the library – its architecture and the people who were part of its soul over the years. This was written by a lover of reading, and this lover of reading approves!

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff – Homelessness is a social condition that intimidates many people. In this memoir, Laura Schroff writes honestly about her own lack of understanding and how, through a simple gesture that grew, her life was changed by a young boy on the streets of New York City. Reminiscent of The Blind Side, this is an inspirational story that will stick with you.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes – The word “romp” keeps coming forth whenever I describe this book. It reminds me of one of those Oscar Wilde plays, a comedy of manners, where everyone is dancing around everyone else and we’re only in on half of the story until it all pieces together in the end with a few wily maneuvers that leave you gasping and snickering. Julian Fellowes is of course the creator of the Downton Abbey antics and this, too, has become televised in the UK. The book was such fun, I can only imagine the TV series will be too.

Turbulence by David Szalay – A slim little chapter book oh-so-creatively pieced together and beautifully written. You know one of my favourite books of all time is Let the Great World Spin and this has a little sprinkle of that fairy dust. A passenger on a plane (you know, in the olden days) converses with his neighbouring seatmate. That seatmate goes on to have another conversation in a different city and so on and so on. The story winds around the globe and back again connecting regular people in extraordinary ways.

The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell – The world of first responders doesn’t often appear in mainstream novels and so this was an interesting world in which to travel. With elements of suspense and heart wrenching emotion, it provides a glimpse into the challenge of processing trauma, personally and professionally. A Canadian writer who has also written Under This Unbroken Sky.

    

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil collector and expert in paleontology from Lyme Regis in Dorset, England.  Among her most notable discoveries were an icthyasaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur (“saury” – won’t describe the ancient creatures here but you get the drift!) All important finds and instrumental in proving the theory of extinction: ancient species had existed at one time, in an age of “dinosaurs”.  Mary is a fascinating character in history, respected now for her extraordinary contribution to modern day understanding of prehistorical life and geographical history but challenged with a lack of recognition in her day due to her gender and low social status.  As an aside, she was also the inspiration behind the verse: “She sells sea shells by the seashore”.

Two accomplished writers were motivated to explore and capture Mary’s story in fiction for the rest of us to enjoy and, coincidentally, at just about the same time. The books were published within a few months of one another early in 2010. Curiosity by Canadian writer Joan Thomas is enjoying many accolades and celebration; it was  long listed for the Giller prize and named The Vancouver Sun’s inaugural selection in its new on-line book club.  Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier has also been reviewed positively and I’m sure will be picked up by those who’ve enjoyed her other terrific books: The Virgin Blue, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Burning Bright and others.  I’m an enormous fan of her writing.

Each of the authors took a distinct approach to imagining Mary’s story. I think this makes a great opportunity to read both and compare the versions of her so-called life – perhaps a good Book Club task for one of those longer spells between meetings. If one had to choose to read just one based on the cover alone, which would you select?  Let us know what you thought if you’ve already read one or the other. Click on the book covers to be taken to the authors’ websites and note the similarity there. You’ll find great information on each site.

 in·trep·id (ĭn-trěp’ĭd) adj. Resolutely courageous; fearless, brave, bold. See Synonyms at brave. (1627 (implied in intrepidness ), from L. intrepidus “unshaken, undaunted,” from in- “not” + trepidus “alarmed.”). Additional synonyms: audacious, gritty, gutsy, heroic.

I happened upon word of a wonderful endeavour in our fair city a month or so ago and it’s been dwelling in my thoughts ever since.  Our little blog here seemed like the perfect spot to launch a conversation about it and perhaps even inspire a flurry of action. While I dallied, sorting my thoughts and words, The Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier coincidentally both printed related articles this week. The focus?  The Intrepid Pens.

The Intrepid Pens is a creative writing workshop and book club based at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Cordova Street in Vancouver. Founder, facilitator and nurturer of the group, Amanda Grondahl  encourages the women living with addiction, poverty, and homelessness to engage their creativity and self-expression through writing of their own. She also gives them an opportunity to explore and discuss novels of the group’s choosing. In her own words from her blog she says: ” … how amazing it is when 15 (or so) women get together to talk, read, write, share, laugh, and grow; how group members’ writing has improved; how group members’ confidence is soaring; how some are sharing their stories for the very first time; how beautiful it is that those who struggle with reading or writing are read to by fellow group members – their work transcribed for them, and read aloud by their friends; how we’re learning through reading and healing through writing; how several group members have already been published, and how group members talk with excitement about writing more, learning more, and doing more…” Amanda believes there is a “quiet magic” taking place within the group. She is adamant that the women are as important to her as she might be to them and fondly speaks of “my ladies” as she writes “… we are a little family of writers and readers and friends now. …”      

  

Amanda makes it clear that she is enormously grateful to a number of sponsors, friends and families who offer help, support and donations. There are a few very easy ways in which Bedside Table Books and our readers can give The Intrepid Pens a little boost of encouragement too:

Firstly, Amanda and her fellow Intrepid-ers have applied to the Pepsi Refresh Grant Campaign with hope of qualifying for $25,000.00 toward their cause. The grants are based upon the number of supportive votes each applicant receives. Please take the time to add your vote by clicking here and then crossing your fingers that the group is selected to receive the money. Voting deadline is October 31st.

Secondly, The Intrepid Pens have need of the following:

  • Novels (new or used copies)
  • Writing supplies (journals, notebooks, and pens)
  • Bus tickets for transportation around the city (Adult 1-zone Faresavers)
  • Money (for books, supplies, food and drinks, transportation, field trips, and special events)

As readers, many in book clubs, you might like to review the Intrepid Pens’ impressive book list (they are reading great stuff!) and see if you have any copies you’d like to donate. If your book club or a group of your friends has recently read one of the list entries then suggest anyone not wishing to keep her copy share it with the Intrepid ladies. Another option is to shop for a few copies and send them along.

I hope this fine venture and its story captures your hearts as firmly as it does mine.

Visit the website for The Intrepid Pens here and follow their story or make contact.

You may recall another special book club in an earlier post this year. Read The Word is Their Bond from March 12th.

 Here is a wonderful (possibly even awesome!) story of a devoted teacher, Luis Humberto Soriano, who finds a way to bring books to children who otherwise would not have access to them in rural Colombia.  This video shows how the children’s love of learning and of books is ignited through his mobile “book club”.

An excerpt from an article at CNN where Luis Soriano was nominated as one of the CNN Heroes of 2010:

“Soriano, 38, is a primary school teacher who spends his free time operating a “biblioburro,” a mobile library on donkeys that offers reading education for hundreds of children living in what he describes as “abandoned regions” in the Colombian state of Magdalena…

“I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load,” Soriano said. “I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools…

Every Wednesday at dusk and every Saturday at dawn, Soriano leaves his wife and three young children to travel to select villages — up to four hours each way — aboard a donkey named Alfa. A second donkey, Beto, follows behind, toting additional books and a sitting blanket. They visit 15 villages on a rotating basis…

More than 4,000 youngsters have benefited from Soriano’s program since it began in 1990. Soriano says countless others have been helped, too; parents and other adult learners often participate in the lessons…”

Inspiring!

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